Carol Doda was born August 29, 1937, in Solano County, California, and grew up in San Francisco. Her parents divorced when she was 3. Although private about her personal life, she said she dropped out of school and became a cocktail waitress at age 14. Carol Doda attended the San Francisco Art Institute and worked as waitress and lounge entertainer at the Condor Club, at the corner of Broadway and Columbus in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Doda’s act began with a grand piano being lowered from the ceiling by hydraulic motors; Doda would be atop the piano dancing, as it descended from a hole in the ceiling. She go-go danced “The Swim” to a rock and roll combo headed by Bobby Freeman as her piano settled on the stage. (In 1983 Assistant Manager James “Jimmy the Beard” Ferrozzo was crushed to death by the hydraulic piano while lying atop his naked stripper girlfriend, Theresa Hill.) From the waist up Doda emulated aquatic movements like the Australian crawl. She also performed The Twist, The Frug, and The Watusi. On June 19, 1964, when Doda was 26 years old, the Condor’s publicist, “Big” Davy Rosenberg gave Doda a “monokini” topless swimsuit designed by Rudi Gernreich. She performed topless that night, the first noted entertainer of the era to do so. The act was an instant success. Two months after she started her semi-nude performances, the rest of San Francisco’s Broadway was topless, followed soon after by entertainers across America. Doda became an American cultural icon of the 1960s. Sly Stone was a young guitarist in the Condor’s house band, but soon after Doda began performing topless he left. The Republican National Convention was held in San Francisco, during the summer of 1964; many of the delegates came to see Carol Doda. She was profiled in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book The Pump House Gang and appeared that same year as Sally Silicone in Head, the 1968 film created by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, and featuring The Monkees. The movie was produced by Columbia Pictures. She appeared in a Golden Boy parody with Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, and Davy Jones.
Encouraged by her success, Doda soon decided to enhance her breasts with silicone injections, going from size 34 to 44. Doda became renowned for her big bust, and was one of the first well-known performers to have her breasts artificially enhanced. She had 44 injections, a large dose of silicone, at a cost of $1,500. For the topless and waterless Swim, Doda wore the bottom half of a black bikini and a net top which ended where a bathing suit generally began. She performed 12 shows nightly so the management could keep crowds moving in and out. A large illuminated sign in front of the club featured a cartoon of her with red flashing lights representing her nipples. On September 3, 1969, Carol Doda began dancing bottomless (i.e., totally nude) at the Condor. She danced bottomless until the California Alcoholic Beverages Commission passed a rule in the autumn of 1972 prohibiting nude dancing in places that served alcohol. On April 22, 1965 Doda was arrested with Gino del Prete, owner of the Condor Club. They were cleared when two judges instructed innocent verdicts. Judge Friedman’s memorandum to opposing attorneys reads, “Whether acts … are lewd and dissolute depends not on any individual’s interpretation or personal opinion, but on the consensus of the entire community …” Doda and del Prete were arrested during police raids to stop bare-bosom shows in North Beach. Peter Mattioli owned the Condor Club by 1967 and Doda still appeared in shows there. Doda was a witness during the trial of two all-nude dancers who were arrested for “indecent exposure and lewd and dissolute conduct”, in 1969. The defendants were dancers at the Pink Pussy Kat in Orangevale, California. Presiding Municipal Court Judge Earl Warren, Jr. moved the trial, temporarily, from the courtroom to Chuck Landis Largo club. There Doda performed to live song and dance numbers, along with a movie titled Guru You. She was cross-examined by a deputy district attorney about what she hoped to convey to audiences in her act. Doda was dressed in a red miniskirt with dark blue piping and beige boots. She responded that the movie represents “a satire of pornography … it’s to show people the humorous side of sex”. Several members of the 10-man, 2-woman jury kept in check their smiles as Doda explained the 17-minute movie. The deputy district attorney opposed asking her to perform, considering it irrelevant to the case. He was overruled by Warren.
From the late-1960s through the late-1970s, Doda was the spokesmodel for what is now the San Jose, California television station KICU-TV Channel 36, then known as KGSC-TV. Filmed from the waist up and wearing clothes which amplified her most prominent physical attributes, she would coo “You’re watching the Perfect 36 in San Jose.” She would also occasionally appear on-air to do editorial commentary on the issues of the day. In 1982 Doda was again dancing at the Condor three times a night. She was 45 and performed to rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and ragtime. Each act was the same, with Doda appearing in a gold gown, traditional elbow-length gloves, and a diaphanous wraparound. Her clothing was removed until she wore only a g-string and the diaphanous wraparound. In the final portion she was attired in only the wraparound. Her small body looked slimmer without clothes, a perception which was emphasized by the dwarfing effect of her breasts. At the time she was taking dance and voice lessons but had no definite plans for her future. For a few years in the early 80’s Carol performed throughout Bay Area dance night clubs with her band “The Lucky Stiffs”. Pop rock star Greg Kihn was responsible for organizing her band for her, and assisted her in her bookings. During one of her engagements at “The Odyssey Room” in Sunnyvale, she was escorted by Gary Schmidt, the club’s owner, to a special VIP party held by Steve Wozniak of Apple Computer fame, as the guest of honor. But she did not perform there. A fashion show featuring her line of lingerie usually accompanied her music performances.
Carol Doda retired from stripping in the 1980s and subsequently ran Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique, a lingerie shop in San Francisco. As of 2009 Doda had been performing (fully clothed) for several years at several North Beach (San Francisco) clubs, including Amante’s and Enrico’s Supper Club. On November 9, 2015, Doda died of kidney failure at St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco after a long stay. Doda said she was never married. While very young, she gave birth to two children with whom she had little contact: daughter Donna Smith Terzian, who predeceased her, and son Tom Smith.
- August, 29, 1937
- Solano County, California
- November, 09, 2015
- San Francisco, California
Cause of Death
- kidney failure